It seems fitting that on this of all days Osomatsu-san would deliver possibly its most inspired episode yet.
I don’t know if you’re the sort of person that follows the disc sales side of the anime industry – though if you’re a serious fan you probably should be. If you are, you knew that Osomatsu-san was on target to be the best selling series of the Fall 2015 season – by a lot. But even having that knowledge could hardly have prepared you for the stunning results when this week’s Blu-ray sales came in: Osomatsu-san Volume 1 sold 80,000 combined copies.
80 thousand. I’m going to give that a minute to sink in.
Let’s cut right to it – that is a ridiculous number. Silly. As inflated as Stalker was, it underestimated Vol. 1 by 57% on DVD and 111% on Blu-ray. Titles popular with female fans often exceed Stalker estimates because of strong sales at Animate!, but this is almost unprecedented. Look at it this way – the amount this volume was underestimated would have been enough to make it the #1 seller of the season by a more than 2-1 margin. Chew on that.
There are so many fascinating aspects to this unbelievable story, starting with the fact that a reboot of a 1960’s manga/1980’s family anime is now on-track to become only the second 100K anime volume of the millennium (120K seems a reasonable guess, as this week was actually only 4 days worth of sales). Some otaku have predictably tried to dismiss this as a fluke (“Event ticket bump!”) and expressed chagrin that a “fujo show” just blew their NisiOisin and idol shows out of the water like Jamie Hyneman to a Yugo. But these kinds of numbers categorically refute the notion that something like a seiyuu event (popular as these guys are) could be responsible, or that this is a series that appeals to one demographic. Just the BD sales alone would have been easily the top-seller of the season, for crying out loud. Osomatsu-san has left the mortal world behind is now in the realm of cultural phenomena.
Just why did this happen – and how high will it go? The series average will certainly place it in the top 10 of all-time, probably the top five. Will it catch the all-time leaders, Bakemonogatari and Madoka Magica? Probably not – but even so, this represents a commercial earthquake rarely seen in anime. Without doubt, Osomatsu-san’s creators started this series out – literally from the beginning – as a satirical attempt to cash in on female otaku trends. And I can’t imagine they could have imagined they’d succeed as well as they have, not remotely – but they’re certainly appealed to a much wider range of fans than that.
I would humbly submit, however, that a major reason Osomatsu-san has been so successful has been because it’s just so damn funny – and it speaks to a generation of Japanese anime fans of both genders who understand all the jokes and appreciate its almost-unerringly accurate depiction of NEET trials and tribulations. And it’s both utterly fearless and restlessly creative, constantly plowing new ground in terms of format. Last week was a brilliant “Mad Max” parody, this time around it’s “Jyuushimatsu Matsuri” – a series of ten or so short vignettes all built around the brother who’s making a strong case (along with Karamatsu) for being the biggest breakout character of the series.
There was a ton of brilliance here, showing off the seemingly endless ways Osomatsu-san can go for the laugh. It doesn’t get any more self-referential than Jyuushimatsu having a booth at Comiket selling “BL” (for “Baseball”) doujins about “catchers”, “switch-hitters” and “reversibles” (and Choromatsu wanting to buy a “switch-hitter”). Then there’s Jyuushimatsu visiting Todomatsu at the hospital like a demented Babe Ruth. And “Jyuushmatsu-pan” flying a bored Sachiko around showing off baseball sites, before leaving her stranded in the Dominican Republic. Or Jyuushimatsu getting steroids from Dekapan, only to end up with testes the size of wrecking balls.
I think my favorite bit of the week, though, was the “Concepts” sketch – because it really showed off just how smart and avant-garde this series can be. It was absolutely brilliant, especially when Jyuushimatsu got so reductionist that he turned first himself and them everything (and everyone) else into their representative Kanji. Not only was it visually stunning, but when one considers that Kanji is a representative (pictographic and ideographic rather than a syllabary, which is he role of Kana) language, it was incredibly deep too.
The thing with Jyuushimatsu is that one can never stop wondering whether there’s something dark and scary hiding under there – and the series knows this, and plays to that sense brilliantly. The brothers want to know, too – where did it all change? And it’s not so easy to guess, either, because while the boy in the scrapbooks seems to have “turned” between the 9th and 10th grades, the baby in the oldest pictures has a suspicious open-mouthed grin on his face. Keeping us guessing is just one of the many things Osomatsu-san does brilliantly, and it’s always full of surprises – but never more than this week, both on-screen and off. It’s one of the most unlikely stories you’ll ever see in anime, and thank goodness this fandom still has the capacity to shock the hell out of me.